Bible Formulas in Appalachian Folk Magic

Our Father who art in Heaven

Hallowed be Thy Name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done

On earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this Day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever and ever.

The Bible is worth more than all the coal in these hills to the old folk. So much so, a whole load of beliefs have developed around the power, use, and treatment of this book. Not only are it’s contents used in works and cures and tricks, it sometimes becomes a work or tool of power itself.

Never place a Bible on the floor, as it invites bad luck and the Devil in.

Bible passages are said for safe traveling, healing, stopping blood, getting justice, curing colic, talking out fire from the bones, and many other things. The Bible is used much like a modern pagan would use chants and rhymes. They build power over time. Except the Bible is a different story (insert pun and laugh). Society today has conferred a lot of power on Biblical language and on the book itself, a conferred power in Appalachia traceable to the motherlands if Ireland, Scotland, England, Italy, France and Germany.

We often hear of house fires that burn everything but the family Bible and it’s called a miracle. The Bible is held as the Word of the Almighty Creator. But outside our pristine churches, in deep country hollers, they’re a part of our heritage and one’s genealogy. The family Bible is still used in Appalachia as a place for family birth/death certificates, cards and notes from loved ones, and notes from the distant past.

I have many of my Papaw’s bibles. One he’s used for studying, one for preaching, and one was only pulled out when a specific verse was needed for an ailment or issue. The one he preached with has been in the family for 70 years, it’s pages worn and curled by time and love. There’s scribbles on almost every page, mostly incoherent. There’s photos of family, newspaper clippings, bookmarks, notes and more. He often said Bible meant “Book of Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”

Bibles here aren’t “grimoires” or spell books as the modern folk magic community is calling them. In their use, yes, but in their spirit, no. They can very well be used that way, but their meaning in this culture goes deeper. They are the cinnamon candy at the bottom of Mamaw’s pocket book. They’re the sound of bells and the stiffness of church clothes on Sunday morning. They’re the sweat and tears of decades of preaching and testifying and healing. They are the soul of a people. My people.

“And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said

unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou

wast in thy blood, Live.” Ezekiel 16:6

Bibles here were often the only place records were kept of births, marriages, deaths, and other important events personal and societal. They were printed with extra pages to avoid breaking the law of producing the English Bible in the colonies. These books became a treasure to both historians and genealogists alike. Often, they are the remaining threads of family history, history not recorded elsewhere. But there was a magical history behind it, that was born and brought to its cradle in Appalachia.

In Appalachian folk magic, the Bible is a main component in the formulas. Many formulas are crafted after biblical tales, many animals used based on biblical theory, the names of characters called upon in different ways and many scriptures used because of their power. Many people swear that the actual words written have power as well by looking at the thinking of getting one word wrong will prove a cure ineffective and it must be repeated “as God said it.”

In American Folk Magic, God is thought to be the first doctor. Six days of “working” and all things were made and done and fixed. It is by the Bible that many workers go for their magical ethics. Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. God has as much to do with what you’ve done as you do, good or bad. If your work is done, it’s God’s will. It’s gotta be.

God is the great healer. Faith can move mountains, but these mountains seem to have moved this faith in many ways. Christianity and folklore in Appalachia and it’s motherlands seem to have sustained each other; the feeble fabrics of folklore being held tightly by the faith and belief of Appalachian Christian. When paired with the economy of the place, the culture, diet, taboos, and other ways of the people, this in turn proved to be the recipe for the magic and healing we have in the hills today, both in and outside of the Church.

Appalachian folklore stemming from Ireland details an explanation in core story with many variations, but keeping with the same end: when Christ was crucified and they were carrying him down to the tomb, a robin noticed a thorn stuck in the Lord’s brow. The robin flew down and pulled on it, in the process getting a drop of the sacred blood on his chest, forever staining in red. With the same end, all of the story’s hold the same events: the robin tries prying a thorn from Jesus on the cross and gets His blood on its chest. This is one of many tales held in the belief of Appalachian people, although there’s no scriptural basis to it. Because of the above story, it’s said to kill a robin equals seven years bad luck, the number seven here should be an obvious inclusion of Christian belief.

Below are formulas using the Bible, as reference and component.

• Sleep with a Bible under the mattress to avert nightmares and night terrors.

• Keep a Bible by the front door open to David’s Psalm to help keep roaming haints out.

• Ask God a question. Close your eyes and flip through its pages. Using your dominant hand, move it around over both sides until the Spirit stops you. Open your eyes and read the verse at the tip of your ring finger.

• Write all of psalms 23 on a piece of paper and carry it with you. Many women would clip it in their bonnets and the men in their hats or wallets. This is said to protect you from lightning, rheumatism, bad luck, and harm.

• Take a Bible to the crossroads and lay it open. Wait for the wind to blow. After the wind is done blowing, close your eyes and read the verse on the tip of your ring finger as above.

• To protect from witchcraft and evil, keep a Bible open to psalms 23 facing North.

• For arthritis or other ailments of the bones, take some lard or oil and rub it over the aching place while reciting Proverbs 16:24 or the Lord’s Prayer.

• For pain in the body, the place is rubbed “to the left”, while saying “Tame thou flesh and bone, like Christ in Paradise” seven times.

• Keep photos of loved ones in the Bible to keep them safe and “out of trouble”. Seems to work too well sometimes for those family members who should definitely be in trouble.

• Many people today often joke about slapping people with the Bible. While they aren’t slapped, in many churches they are placed on the ill and that person is prayed over with the belief that the holy book will heal them by God’s power and Word.

•For Sade delivery or pregnancy, write the names of the blessed family (Mary Joseph Jesus) on a piece of paper and keep it close the skin.

• To curse an enemy, write psalms 129 on found paper, newspaper, or some other scraps and ball it up. Go down to the creek and cover it with mud and clay, spitting and cursing at it with each handful gathered. Let it dry. This is then tossed into their yard. This formula is a derivative of the famous witch balls in the British Isles.

• When you give someone a Bible, hide a penny in it for luck to that person.

Bibles are family history in these hills. I look at his bible and often wonder how many nights my Papaw sat up with it. How many of his tears and drops of sweat hit those pages, doing what he was called for from the age of 16? How many laughs and jokes were told over it? How many times was it clutched in fear and despair? How many times…?


Author: Jake Richards

Jake (Dr. Henny) follows family practice as a Yarb Doctor and Conjure man in the Appalachian Folk Magic tradition. He follows the legacy of his mother (a seventh daughter), that left behind by his grandfather, a baptist preacher who was a blood stopper, wort doctor, and thrush doctor; his grandmother, who was a knowledgeable woman in these works before Alzheimer’s set in; his great, great grandfather who witched for water in Washington County and his great grandmother who taught and worked from her roost at the foot of Devil’s Nest Mountain. Jake is the author of Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia, available for preorder on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. When he's not writing, blogging, reading the bones or trying for clients: he is either traveling, gardening, sewing, book binding, reading, or sculpting. For questions, readings, recommendations for future posts, interviews and the like, you are welcome to email him below:

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